USA250: Why? Who? What? How?

by Jon Grabelle Herrmann, USA250 Executive Director

We know when America will celebrate its 250th anniversary: July 4, 2026. But why should we care about an anniversary over ten years from now? Who is involved in planning the 250th? What is the big idea? And how can people get involved?

WHY:

American values are enshrined in our founding Declaration of Independence, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Fulfilling the promise of the Declaration is the ongoing task for our society. The 250th anniversary presents us a unique opportunity to spark a national dialogue about America’s future, to celebrate our nation’s achievements, and to reflect upon our struggles in reaching this moment. It will take a concerted effort by a diverse group of Americans to engage the nation around big ideas and to organize around long-term goals over a decade away.

WHO:

Several years ago, a group of Philadelphians started a conversation about America’s future and the role that Philadelphia should once again play in bringing the country together. Led by USA250’s founder and current board chair Andrew Hohns, they raised startup funds to engage a broad group of Philadelphians around the ideas and opportunities presented by our nation’s 250th anniversary.

In 2012-2013, business and civic leader Sam Katz was hired as managing director to develop the initial plans. USA250 was incorporated as a 501(c)3 nonprofit and the group succeeded in bringing this opportunity to Philadelphia’s business, tourism, and civic communities. Hundreds of Philadelphians brainstormed “250 ideas for the 250th” through a series of parlor meetings, yielding a framework vision as we head into 2026. The idea was placed in the public spotlight in stories by Philadelphia Magazine, Metro, and Flying Kite Media. And Katz, who has been been producing an impressive series of documentaries about Philadelphia’s history, created this great teaser video to invite others to join USA250.

In November 2014, USA250 hired Jon Grabelle Herrmann as executive director and developed Philly-area tourism partnerships to embark on its next planning phase.

WHAT:

USA250’s vision is to convene citizens and leaders from all 50 states to renew the American project through a celebration and exploration of democracy, education, innovation, the arts, sports, and sustainable development in the modern era. Philadelphia will anchor the 250th by hosting a multi-year series of events, exhibitions and conventions as we build partnerships to extend the initiative nationwide.

The organization draws particular inspiration from the Centennial International Exposition of 1876, which brought together a fractured, post-Civil War nation and attracted 10 million visitors to the United States’ first official World’s Fair. The Centennial not only marked America’s 100th anniversary, but more broadly it engaged the world around the leading artistic, commercial, and agricultural advancements of the day. We are exploring models to apply these concepts in the modern era.

HOW:

In 2015, USA250 enters its next development phase to put our ideas into action for 2026. We’ll be posting “250 ideas for the 250th” over the course of a year and developing partnerships for the 250th. We are inviting participation by leaders and citizens across all sectors and communities. Sign up to keep in touch or get involved.

We’re just getting started. Watch this space.

 

USA250 partners with Philly-area tourism agencies

Two of USA250’s early partners have a mission to attract visitors to the Philadelphia region for business, leisure, meetings, and conventions.

With the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, USA250 is posing questions to the diverse target markets they reach: For meeting planners, how will your meeting or convention tie into America’s 250th? For sports organizations, what 2026 event can be showcased in Philadelphia for America’s 250th? For international travelers and tour operators, how can you represent your country and plan to take in all that is uniquely Philadelphia for America’s 250th? Our calendar for 2026 is already filling in.

And with VISIT PHILADEPHIA®, we are researching the opportunity to attract tourists to the 250th in Philadelphia and related best practices. How can we develop a program to attract the masses from around the nation to visit America’s birthplace? We are looking into other successful events and tourism programs to serve as models for the Philadelphia region.

Photo by R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia and Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau

It starts now.

Thanks to Sam Katz for producing this introductory video to “get Greater Philadelphia ready” for America’s 250th. Katz is producing an ongoing documentary series, Philadelphia: The Great Experiment, including a look back at past national celebrations in 1876, 1926 and 1876. To watch the whole series, click here.

Calling Ed Bacon…

In addition to his role as father of America’s most-connected actor, Ed Bacon is remembered as a champion of urban planning as head of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission in the 1950s and 60s.

And so it is suitable that the annual design competition in Bacon’s name focused on a vision for a World’s Fair to be held in Philadelphia in 2026.

These student designs mark the very first ideas generated for USA250 in 2010. The winning project was called Confluence: Philadelphia 2026 and designed by a team from Cornell University.

The Cornell team sought a sustainable approach to building out the existing South Philadelphia stadium sites into a campus for an international exposition. Says Taylor, one of the team members:

“Placing urban development in Philadelphia under the framework of a ‘world exposition’ allows one to explore new ways of sustainable urban development. Especially, the project allowed us to attempt to research, analyze and provide solutions for some of the shortcomings of expositions and their aftermaths have experienced in the past.”

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